Whilst, in theory, treating everyone the same works and seems fair, if you take the time to actually understand people you will see that we are not exactly the same. This article hopes to cover some misconceptions about inclusion and diversity, and how we need to be equitable to level the playing field before we can ever reach a true equilibrium. The article is focused on the workplace but could be applied to other areas.
Equality vs Equitability
Before we get into the meat of the article, I feel I need to address what I mean by ‘we need to be equitable to level the playing field before we can ever reach a true equilibrium‘. Hopefully, the image explains the way I am using the term well enough, but to be more explicit – we are all different, and that includes an array of disadvantages and privileges that can make anything easier or harder for an individual. Equity is about considering the needs of others and doing our best to give everyone the same opportunities/experiences.
How are we Different?
The most obvious is a physical disability, like someone paralyzed and stuck in a wheelchair, yet still otherwise able and willing to work.
Would we expect someone who cannot walk to go up the stairs? No.
This is not the only way we are different either, we have any number of differences from physical disability, mental disability or illness, a neuro divergence, cultural background, economic background, educational opportunities and so on.
Excluding the Diverse from Employment
For a long time, companies might have not employed those with a disability due to either a prejudice against the disabled, conflating disability with an inability to do the job, or because they don’t have the facilities to enable the person to get around the building.
Breaking down barriers for a more inclusive workforce involves dispelling the myths surrounding disability. Studies, such as those conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), emphasize the need to challenge deep-rooted prejudices that associate disability with incompetence. It’s not merely about providing ramps; it’s about dismantling the misconceptions that have, for too long, hindered the employment of talented individuals with disabilities.
This essentially highlights 2 areas we should consider: Diversity and Inclusivity.
Diversity and Inclusivity.
Diversity and inclusivity are not just buzzwords; they are the cornerstones of a thriving, innovative society.
According to research, diversified teams perform better than homogeneous teams. Employee productivity in diverse workplaces is 12% higher than in businesses that make no attempt to be inclusive. Additionally, according to research, inclusive teams perform up to 30% better in situations with strong diversity.
What is Diversity?
Diversity is essentially how “different” the people are in your company. A company that is mostly middle-class white males is not very diverse.
A multicultural gender-balanced staff, some with disabilities, mental illness, neurodivergence etc is a diverse culture.
What is Inclusivity?
Inclusivity is largely about making reasonable accommodations for your diverse culture.
This is wider doors, elevators, ramps etc for the person in the wheelchair.
It might be changing fluorescent lighting for LED lighting for someone who suffers from migraines or epilepsy.
This is, in part, to make sure that everyone is equally able to do their job. Smaller examples of this might be getting an upright mouse for a colleague with carpal tunnel or tendonitis, a riser desk for a colleague with back issues and so on.
Another part of inclusivity is ensuring your team and extended colleagues feel welcome/not excluded. This can come from celebrating various cultures and traditions, as well as raising awareness of mental health, neurodivergence, gender and race issues etc.
A truly inclusive environment will enable people to be comfortable and express themselves. It will work on the employee’s strengths rather than expecting them to all fit into a small box. It will not only acknowledge and accept differences but celebrate them.
Both inclusion and diversity sometimes get accusations of special treatment.
Diversity & Special Treatment
Diversity quotas and special treatment policies often spark debate, with opinions diverging on their effectiveness and fairness. Studies, such as the one published in the American Sociological Review by Lauren A. Rivera, shed light on the complexities. While quotas can be seen as a proactive measure to address historical inequalities, the challenge lies in ensuring they don’t inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes or lead to tokenism. Striking the right balance is crucial for fostering a truly inclusive and meritocratic environment.
Many companies have a diversity quota. For some companies this is just a net number of employees, for others, they do their best to make sure there is diversity at every level within the company.
Overlooked for a Promotion, Was The Quota to Blame?
At times, folks might get overlooked for a promotion or a new job and see that the person who did get the job is “different”. That is to say, they might be a different race, gender or differently abled in some way.
They might assume this is because the company is trying to fill a diversity quota rather than hiring the best person for the job.
Has that been confirmed?
Unless they have actual confirmation from the hiring body that this is the case, it actually speaks more about the person making said assumption. They can’t imagine someone different to them is better at their job. Their bias has clouded their judgement and drawn them to a, most likely, faulty conclusion.
If the person was the “same” as them, would they think the same? What would the excuse be that they didn’t get the job then?
There are more factors than what’s on paper.
I know people with degrees and experience who are, on paper, perfect… Yet in practice are awful and can just play the game well… And folks in their first job whom are performing way above their grade.
So, again, without confirmation we can’t really say that “X was looked over because he was a white male” is necessarily true any more than we can say they would have actually been better at the job.
Preventing Bias by implementing bias is Absurd
There are some who might think these quotas are implementing a bias.
Part of the reason for quotas is because, for a long time, people who have the skills have been overlooked due to certain disabilities, gender, or racial prejudices… So, to help things reach a level, there was/is a push to fill quotas.
Yes, in some instances this *might* result in someone being overlooked that *might* have been better than the employed candidate but that is hard to quantify for anyone who isn’t the hiring manager.
There’s a History of Systemic Issues and They Persist Today!
What we can see is the systemic issues and see companies aiming for a diversity target due to a history of discrimination. To fix the problem we might have to over-correct. For example, we might need to push more women into exec positions because it’s a predominantly male-orientated role, and yes at times they might not be quite as good… But so what? Equal and fair representation at the exec level is far more important. And guess what? Sometimes they will be way better than their male counterpart too. Plenty of people who are good on paper have turned out not to be and vice versa.
Not only that, having equal representation at the exec level means that certain things that males typically wouldn’t think of will be highlighted, and it could inspire more women to find a career instead of feeling trapped in less rewarding roles or feeling like they are only good to be a homemaker.
A Diversity Quota isn’t the Same as Implementing A Bias
You’re also not implementing a bias with a diversity quota. Humans are naturally tribalistic. That means we subconsciously favour those that are more like us than those that are different. For some people, this feeling is a lot stronger than for others.
This means that, in a middle-class white male-dominated society, middle-class white males are going to look more favourably on other middle-class white males. Not only that, being part of that society means that there may even be a tendency for someone not in that group to still look favourably upon this archetype.
A Diversity Quota is Designed to Help Overcome Bias
The diversity quota helps overcome that bias. It is designed to help prevent discrimination, rather than being discriminatory in and of itself.
Unconscious biases are the silent architects of our perceptions, shaping a world where familiarity feels like fairness. Numerous studies, such as those conducted by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, pioneers in the field of implicit bias, reveal the subtle ways our minds can unintentionally discriminate against those who appear different. These biases, ingrained through cultural exposure, highlight the importance of fostering awareness and actively challenging our preconceptions to build a more inclusive society.
Hypothetical Employment Situation
Imagine the situation with a later middle-aged white male hiring manager. They have two candidates, one white and one black. There is a strong chance they will subconsciously think the black candidate is giving worse answers. Even if they gave the exact same answers as the white candidate, mannerisms and delivery, combined with physical appearance are going to have a different impact.
So, the quota is a reminder to try and step back and be more objective. Yes, some managers might be lazier, and some companies might apply their diversity quota in a way where they see it as a tick box exercise instead of a correction for a systemic issue, but even then it has positives. Also, companies that don’t hire the right people for the job will go under, so if the ONLY thing they were basing things on was race, then the company wouldn’t last very long.
How Do You Think Diversity Quotas Work?
If it wasn’t obvious from the post so far, the idea that folks are given preferential treatment is an erroneous one.
The way diversity quotas are supposed to be implemented. These are nearly always implemented in an “equal or greater skill” sense, though in certain companies that perhaps have been historically less diverse, there could be a push for a minimum quota.
In most instances, there is no skill lost, and even in the more extreme circumstances, the different perspectives, understandings and skills of a ‘diversity hire’ can greatly enrich a company. Sometimes, the right person for the job isn’t necessarily the most productive or skilful. There are many factors that go into hiring someone, for example, personality – you don’t want someone who will rub all the other staff the wrong way. The evidence supporting a diverse workforce, the net productivity and happiness increases, is a strong reason to diversify your workforce too.
“Discrimination is a Historical Problem, Not A Present One”
It’s incredibly ignorant to think there isn’t a systemic problem anymore, if you haven’t been part of a company that has actually done a gender and race pay gap analysis then maybe that’s why you think there isn’t a problem anymore. Perhaps your experience is quite sheltered and therefore you’re ignorant of the way things are, or maybe you’re lucky enough to live in an area where the system issues with inclusion and diversity have truly been expunged but have made a hasty generalisation and assumed it is the same everywhere.
Check your Privilege!
It’s quite a privilege to have never had to have been worried about getting rejected from a job purely because of your race, sex, sexuality, disability and so on.
Anyone afraid of being, or feels they have been, rejected because of a diversity quota is finally experiencing what others have felt for generations.
If you think trying to correct a systemic problem is as bad or worse than the problem itself then either you’re incredibly naive or incredibly selfish.
Not everyone has the same economic, educational, racial, or medical background as you. There are some folks who have to struggle much harder to get to a point where you and they are “equal” and this should always factor into your thoughts.
I Lost My Job
I actually lost out on a job in my early 20s due to the then-new push on diversity and filling quotas.
At the time I felt incredibly hard done by, I was desperate for work and had been trying for ages, I was applying everywhere and this was the first interview I had in ages at the local supermarket.
Whilst I am on the ND scale, I wasn’t diagnosed back then, and the main focus was on the more obvious forms of mental and physical handicap, as well as race though that wasn’t relevant to this.
Was I The Best Person For The Job?
There is no question I could have done the tasks better, but that doesn’t actually mean I was the best candidate for the job, nor does it mean that I should have got the role.
If we consider this individual, their life is much harder than mine, they could probably have gotten away with claiming incapacity benefits for their entire life but they wanted to contribute to society and earn a wage. This might be the first and only job they would ever get. They may not ever progress to even a supervisor level. They would more likely be a loyal and dedicated worker, especially as I only wanted the job as some money until I got a “proper job”.
There’s this, and much more that you can pull out of these sorts of situations. Yes, I was upset at the time but I hadn’t had a chance to think it through. In fact, it was years later when everything became clearer to me.
Inclusive Special Treatment
Some people confuse inclusivity with diversity quotas and have the aforementioned problem with them, but that’s not the focus here.
Sometimes, it might feel that others getting “special chairs” or “better mouse” is special treatment, but it’s no more so than installing elevators and wider doors so the office becomes more accessible.
To be Ailment Free is a Privilege
If you don’t have an ailment that makes simple tasks like using a mouse difficult, consider yourself lucky.
Step back for a moment and consider the late Stephen Hawking. Imagine if he didn’t have the ability to write and speak because “not everyone gets one of those special gizmos so it wouldn’t be fair on others!”
Sometimes, what you see as special treatment is just enabling someone to be on a level with you.
This is Why “Treat Everyone Equal” Doesn’t Work In Practice.
This is the problem with “treat everyone equal” – I think from a personal point of view, sure, a lot of the time this works. We shouldn’t treat Jan any differently to Stan – unless we are aware that certain things might upset Stan, then we might want to avoid those things. Why would we intentionally want to upset another?
But from a work environment perspective, if Stan needs an elevator to get into the building, or Jan requires some flexible time as she’s currently undergoing physiotherapy for a sporting injury, should they really be denied because others don’t need those things?
Celebrating Diversity <> Losing Rights
Celebrating diversity and being inclusive doesn’t mean you lose any rights by your group not being celebrated. If you’re part of a group that isn’t celebrated then it’s one of two things… You’re privileged to be part of a group that isn’t marginalised and misunderstood, or there isn’t enough understanding of your plight and it’s worth talking to the inclusion and diversity leaders without your company.
“Companies are providing lip service, they don’t really care!”
There are a few layers to this sort of statement, isn’t there always, but something I have reconciled with in recent years is the fact that it doesn’t matter.
Yes, some companies might only be focused on inclusion and diversity to appease people, and maybe the CEO’s and board don’t really care. However, we have moved to a point where companies HAVE to do that. Companies are being forced to be inclusive and diverse and stand up for social rights even if they don’t want to.
A Positive Shift In Culture
This is a positive, it shows a shift in the culture. It shows that people, in general, are thinking more about others rather than themselves and companies are having to keep up.
So, even if the companies don’t really care, they have to play the part of a company that does to ensure they retain their good staff, get new staff in, and don’t suffer any legal ramifications. We are still in a much better place socially speaking.
What About The Companies that Truly Don’t Do Anything?
Sometimes the lip service is nothing more than that. I have worked for companies that spent more time congratulating themselves on how inclusive and diverse they are than actually doing anything for inclusion and diversity. I have worked for companies that are making a show of trying but are either clueless or not that interested in doing better… and I currently work for a company that I think is leaps and bounds ahead of everywhere and even if the CEO/board don’t care, which I think they do, my colleagues, managers, directors etc all do and make me feel like this is a really inclusive and diverse place to work.
Companies that truly don’t do anything, or don’t do enough, will have their employees leave as soon as they find a better/different opportunity. They risk being taken to court for discriminatory issues too, context-dependent. People will not want to work for a company that gets a bad reputation for its lack of inclusion and diversity. The company will eventually struggle to continue if it fails to make significant changes, much in the way Blockbuster did by dragging its heels over going digital.
We can explain and understand the mentality that some people might have which causes them to frame inclusion and diversity in a negative light. This doesn’t excuse the rigidity of the mental state nor any negative behaviours that come off the back of it, but understanding is at least some of the battle.
Unfortunately, terms like privilege can have a negative connotation. People think because they have struggles they don’t have any privilege and this can sour them to others’ plights.
Inclusion and diversity is a powerful force in the workplace, improves mood and productivity, and can help those within the workplace understand more about other cultures and backgrounds. This can build empathy and improve interactions outside of the workforce too.
- Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People – https://amzn.to/49azCLF
- Rivera, Lauren. (2012). Diversity within Reach: Recruitment versus Hiring in Elite Firms. Annals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science – DOI:10.1177/0002716211421112
- Affirmative Action and Quotas in the Workplace – She+ Geeks Out
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I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
This is one of many things I hope to do with Answers In Reason.
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